Tag Archives: ict4d

Personal Social Device For Kenya


I know, it’s been done before, but let’s try again, with a different name.  I was reading around Slashdot and was interested in one of their articles about the Qi Ben NanoNote, an ultra-small, clamshell-style computer with specs that match moderately-powered smartphones… of about three years ago.  But there’s a catch! Two actually.  The Ben NanoNote runs all Free and Open Source Software as well as using all copyleft hardware.  What’s copyleft hardware you ask? Why it’s hardware to which everybody has access to final production diagrams and schematics, allowing anyone with resources to implement the hardware design exactly.  Finally, the device only costs $99, and that’s an end user purchase, not an OEM bulk rate, which could arguably be much lower.

Where am I going with this?  Lets’ revive the personal communicator device, tried time and time again but always failing (I know, I’m an idiot)!  Sony did it; there was also that Sidekick device, and many others.  So what would be different? Well, none of it ever reached mass-market distribution in Kenya, none of it was completely Open Source and most certainly none of it was only $99.

Statistics already show there is a vibrant mobile-Internet user group in Africa, and more and more people are joining sites like Facebook and getting their daily news off the web, but they are doing so from tiny screens and T9-ing their input.  Throw in SMS support and there is potential for a new crop of data-bundle-oriented mobile service customers who don’t care about making phone calls.  If you are worried about the perception of lugging around multiple devices, many people already carry multiple phones depending on the number of carriers they use.  Make this new device multi-SIM and it’s even more attractive!

There are disadvantages to the device as it stands now.  There is no camera.  There is no built in 3G modem. There is no custom software that would make the device seem tailored to the mobile social experience.  It’s currently un-marketable as far as I am concerned.

Instead, view the Ben NanoNote as a proof of concept that inexpensive mobile devices can be manufactured and run quality software.  Mobile consumers in Kenya are already accustomed to a web without Flash and H.264 support, so why not create this half step device that opens up more of the web for a fraction of the cost of a 44,000/- black-market iPhone or 80,000/- Blackberry. 

Most importantly, being completely open and, “easy,” to hack (it was designed for it), it could help entice a whole new generation of jua kali hackers in Kenya, who get to see instant results of their efforts running on hardware and over the network.  This is where Nokia and Samsung and other hardware manufacturers are getting it all wrong.  It is far too difficult to modify their devices, to fix problems, to customize the experience, all of which carry a lot of weight in the markets here.  There’s space for an upset and a chance to change how people perceive their mobile devices.  If FOSS can make successful inroads, why not FOSH?

Oh, and make it solar powered just for giggles.

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The RIK And The Issue of Trust

Last night I was talking with my dad when our phone connection got cut off (as is common). The last question he asked before we lost connection though was a question I have been fielding a lot recently, with the unveiling and roll-out of the Rural Internet Kiosk (RIK) in Ukunda: how do you prevent people from stealing it? This is not an uncommon question regarding many projects Peace Corps volunteers work on here in Kenya, where the concept of trust, though the same as in the West, is at a different level when it comes to perception of ownership than of that in the West.

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Hakuna Stima, Kuna Shida

Sorry for no post today. Am backlogged on work, and on top of things we lost power unexpectedly (or expectedly I guess, considering it’s the Mombasa summer), and was unable to do any computerized work (read: all my work) today. I would like to take the time however, and briefly inform my lovely readers of a simple fact:

It is immensely difficult to keep students interested in learning computers when there is no electricity.

End of fact.

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Rural Internet Kiosk Launch

I don’t frequently talk about specific projects because sometimes, other than teaching, projects pop up and disappear and if every Peace Corps volunteer mentioned every project that was initiated regardless of if it completely coalesced, well, we would seem like super people, which we aren’t. The fact of the matter is that in development you throw 100 projects against a filter and half of one will come out and it will be all sorts of disfigured from the initial concept, but it will be the only thing slightly usable so you go with it.

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My Trousers Are Dirty

Today was spent mucking around the Rural Internet Kiosk (RIK) that was installed at the Kwale Public Library in Ukunda last Saturday. We were having issues with one of the terminals not working and also my inability to remotely connect to the computer from any Internet connection. But both problems have been resolved thanks to a little finagling and rearranging of the haphazard wiring job, as well as the 1 Mbps pipe we have through Intersat. I promise I will write more about the RIK in a later post. For now, a shower is necessary.

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A New Schedule

I think in an entry a while back I may have informed my readers that one of my primary reasons for sticking with Peace Corps has always been that each and every day brings about a chance for something totally random to happen. Last week, my life took one of those unexpected random turns, and now that the spinning has stopped and I am starting to see straight again, I thought I would write about. Apparently, I am now teaching a full Information and Communication Technology Technician course here at NYS.

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Apologies Ahead of Time

I am writing to apologize ahead of time if I don’t get a chance to blog much this week. The end of this week is the launch of the Rural Internet Kiosk, and as a result, myself an all others on the Voices of Africa team are in crunchtime mode, trying to wrap up invitations, programs, food, and for me in particular, entering about 30,000 survey data points into a spreadsheet as well as writing up a little speech. Most likely there will come times when I just need a break though, so hopefully I will still get off a few blog articles. I still think sometimes I am not really in Peace Corps though. Spreadsheets? Internet Kiosks? What the heck is all of this?

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I Have A Dream

I have a dream that one day I will have a computer running a dedicated web server based on Ubuntu Server 10.04. It will be stable, reliable, trusty, with lots of hard drive space.

I have a dream that one day I will have a rock-solid apache server running such platforms as video streaming, local blogging, file storage and editing, all free and open source.

I have a dream that one day my students will watch downloaded NASA TV videos, streams of BBC Planet Earth and Blue Planet, and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, not just soap operas.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day my teachers will use software such as Moodle to digitize curricula: grades will be posted on-line, students will receive updates and messages without needing to find non-existent time in their schedule to ask their teachers outside of class.

I have a dream that one day, my students will be able to access downloaded versions of Wikipedia, read e-book versions of novels in the public domain; teachers will read the latest journal articles to keep current with their trades and continually improve themselves.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day my students and teachers will compete against one another in networked games, improving hand-eye coordination and student-teacher relationships at the same time.

I have a dream that that one day the NYSTC Computer Lab will become a hub of asynchronous learning, self improvement, entertainment and fun.

I have a dream that one day I will have a counterpart at NYS: an individual educated in computers and interested in their application for the enhancement of learning; an individual willing to learn the ways of Open Source, Software Libre and Linux; networking and system administration; an individual willing to take over the reigns of the lab from me, as I am leaving in but a year.

I have a dream today.

…since when did I dream?

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Necessary Skills For Peace Corps ICT Volunteers

At the request of a reader, here is an entry regarding what I think the, “ideal,” (reading: not me) Peace Corps ICT volunteer should bring in terms of skills. Like all Peace Corps volunteer skill-sets, this isn’t very specific so I am going to be annoyingly general and slightly subjective as I have my own opinions regarding ICT and development that I wish to see people implementing. Also, these are based only on my knowledge as an ICT volunteer working specifically in Kenya and each Peace Corps country is run independent of one another so different countries may call for completely different skills.

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Failure of Design

One of the most interesting components of my time here in Kenya has been watching as people simply interact with technology. Kenya is a very different place to grow up than the US, particularly when it comes to regular, daily interaction with electronic devices. Few schools have computers, and even fewer that are functioning; households are not awash with washing machines or microwaves or other appliances though most people do have daily access to mobile phones. The result of all this has been a significantly decreased level of reinforced learning on how to interact with said electronic devices.

When someone sits down in front of a computer, do they even know where to being? Not really. At least not for my students. Is this wrong or incorrect behavior? Of course not. If you have never utilized an electronic device in any capacity at all, why should you be expected to know how to use one all of a sudden. Should I expect everyone I meet to speak French if I speak it to them, effectively placing French in front of them? Is that fair?

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